Passage 12: Genesis 21:8-21
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.*10So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.12But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ 14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
We live in a world of connections, wherein we can so easily be in touch with anyone whom we have ever met. Yet we still pass many people, content to stay mutual strangers. Despite our vast repositories of information and contacts, it is likely that you do not know what happened to the sister of the young man that your cousin dated in high school. You probably do not know the story of the mother of the man whom your parent did not marry. The saga of third cousin of the neighbor who moved away ten years ago is lost to you and to yours.
So be it.
We cannot know everything. We cannot know everyone. We can, however, remember that their stories, even unknown, touch up against our own through God. We think frequently about how God is shaping us, about God’s promises to those in our particular faith community and to us, about God’s work in what is our known world. What about God’s work that goes on, unbeknownst to us?
Did Isaac ever wonder what happened to the dark-eyed teenager he remembered so faintly from his childhood? Did Ishmael ever speak of his half-brother whom he enjoyed making laugh? Did Abraham tell Isaac of his folly? Did Hagar tell her son of Abraham and of Sarah and of her broken heart? Did both boys grow up, knowing of God’s promises to their parents and their role in fulfilling them? And, if they knew, did they imagine God making the same promise with regard to each of them?
Isaac and Ishmael are both signs of God’s providence and commitment. In human history, they represent two significant personal, political, and religious streams whose currents have significantly shaped the sands and rocks of time. If Isaac had known that Ishmael was also the start of a great nation, what might he have done differently? If Ishmael heard of the twin promises, did it soothe the ache of rejection or fire up his frustrations at his father and at Isaac?
God’s promise to Hagar is a powerful and significant promise. Offered to a woman in the worst of circumstances, watching her child die, it is not a hurried consolation prize, but a powerful offer of hope and future. While Ishmael may have been second place in some households, in the eyes of his creator, he still mattered- as the offspring of Abraham and as the offspring of Hagar.
All of creation, including all people, receives this promise of hope and a future. God considers each person worthy of shaping, of wholeness, and of salvation. We are called into seeing that worthiness in one another. Furthermore, we are called into working together toward the fulfillment of those promises. We do not always know the stories of the people around us, but we can know the promises that have been made to them. We should expect that God is with them. We cannot pretend their stories do not matter.